Tag Archives: Lichtenberg

BVG Freibad – an abandoned open-air pool in Berlin

BVG Freibad (also BVB Freibad) an abandoned swimming pool on Siegfriedstrasse in Berlin Lichtenberg

The water at the BVG Freibad, an abandoned open-air swimming pool on Siegfriedstrasse in the Berlin district of Lichtenberg, doesn’t look too inviting, even on a hot day.

The pool was built in 1928, the same year the neighbouring stadium was acquired by the newly formed BVG (Berliner Verkehrs Aktiengesellschaft, now the Berliner Verkehrsbetriebe), the public company responsible for running Berlin’s transport network, and renamed the BVG-Stadion.

Starting Blocks at BVG Freibad (also BVB Freibad) an abandoned swimming pool on Siegfriedstrasse in Berlin Lichtenberg The Diving Tower at BVG Freibad (also BVB Freibad) an abandoned swimming pool on Siegfriedstrasse in Berlin Lichtenberg

Initially a recreational pool for BVG employees but also used as a training pool for the 1932 and 1936 Olympics, the Freibad went into hibernation after the Second World War to be reawakened again in the 1970s as a Sommervolksbad for the people of the DDR.

In 1969, the BVG in East Berlin became the BVB (Kombinat Berliner Verkehrsbetriebe) and the stadium and pool were then known as the BVB-Stadion and BVB Freibad.

The pool has been closed since the late 1980s and like the Wernerbad in Kaulsdorf is slowly being reclaimed by nature.

Neptunfest at BVG Freibad (also BVB Freibad) an abandoned swimming pool in Berlin Lichtenberg by Thomas Uhlemann

Photo: Thomas Uhlemann

Whilst researching the BVG Freibad before my visit in May 2013 I found the above photo of the Neptunfest at the pool in 1985 so, as I emerged from the trees having crawled through a gap in the fence* the sound of people laughing and splashing in the water was ringing in my ears.

*This was unnecessary it seems as the posts I’ve read from those who have been since suggest walking in through the stadium entrance.

BVG Freibad (also BVB Freibad) an abandoned swimming pool on Siegfriedstrasse in Berlin Lichtenberg BVG Freibad (also BVB Freibad) an abandoned swimming pool on Siegfriedstrasse in Berlin Lichtenberg Changing Rooms at BVG Freibad (also BVB Freibad) an abandoned swimming pool on Siegfriedstrasse in Berlin Lichtenberg Rusted Clock on Changing Rooms at BVG Freibad (also BVB Freibad) an abandoned swimming pool on Siegfriedstrasse in Berlin Lichtenberg

Nobody would want to swim here now though – trees grow in the brown water of the main pool, the wading pool is bone dry.

The changing rooms were locked up tight, the clock on the roof suggested they’d been closed since noon.  Unfortunately, for the purposes of my research no date was given.

Rules on the Diving Tower at BVG Freibad (also BVB Freibad) an abandoned swimming pool on Siegfriedstrasse in Berlin Lichtenberg

I ignored the signs warning me that walking past / through the foot bath in shoes is not allowed – better to break the rules than walk barefoot through the weeds and crumbling concrete.

The steps to the diving tower have been removed, presumably to make sure nobody jumps in sideways now that there are no lifeguards to enforce the rule painted on it.  Jumping from it would be crazy now, whichever way you did it.  If the tree roots didn’t grab a foot and keep you under you could end up with E.coli.

BVG Freibad (also BVB Freibad) an abandoned swimming pool on Siegfriedstrasse in Berlin Lichtenberg Rusted Rails and Concrete Diving Tower at BVG Freibad (also BVB Freibad) an abandoned swimming pool on Siegfriedstrasse in Berlin Lichtenberg Steps at BVG Freibad (also BVB Freibad) an abandoned swimming pool on Siegfriedstrasse in Berlin Lichtenberg BVG Freibad (also BVB Freibad) an abandoned swimming pool on Siegfriedstrasse in Berlin Lichtenberg

There isn’t that much to see but the BVG Freibad on Siegfriedstrasse has a certain charm so Berlin urbex enthusiasts should get to Lichtenberg and check out this abandoned swimming pool while you can still see the water for the trees.

The Stasi Museum

The exterior elevation of The Stasi Museum in the former headquarters of The Stasi in Berlin

The former Stasi Headquarters in Berlin is now a museum.  This is the building that was ‘stormed’ in 1990 by protesters looking for the files that were kept here.

With all the secrecy that surrounded this building in a divided Germany, it seems apt that since re-unification it has become accessible to curious minds and prying eyes.

The first three floors of Haus 1 in this massive complex have been used to lift the veil on the Stasi’s secret past.

The exhibits on the first floor deal with the formation of the Socialist Unity Party (SED) and the development of the Ministry for State Security (Ministerium für Staatssicherheit) or Stasi, as it was most commonly known, which was considered to be the Shield and Sword of the Party.

It was interesting to see that despite their opposing political ideals the SED had borrowed some of their ideas from the Nazis.  Echoing the Hitler Youth, the Free German Youth (Freie Deutsche Jugend or FDJ) was formed in 1946, as an organization for those aged between 14 and 25.  It was used to nurture young minds and instill in the country’s youth the ideals and doctrines of the party and to develop the political leaders of the future.  In 1989, a little under 90% of this age group belonged to the FDJ.

A display of items related to the Frei Deutsche Jugend (FDJ) or Free German Youth in The Stasi Museum in Berlin

Also on the first floor are a number of biographical displays, showing how the lives of citizens of the DDR were affected by the regime.  For example, the story of Wolf Biermann, a poet and musician, who was considered to be a political dissident.  Whilst on tour in the West in 1976, Biermann was denaturalised, meaning he was no longer able to return to his home in the East.

Displayed on the walls of this floor are a surprising array of propaganda items on mats, rugs, banners and tapestries.

Propaganda on a wall hanging in The Stasi Museum in Berlin

For me, the most interesting rooms in the museum are on the second floor.  Here, the offices, conference rooms and relaxation areas of the head of the Stasi, Erich Mielke, have been preserved.

It was from his office here that Mielke commanded a staff that grew from 2,700 at the time of the organisation’s formation in the 1950s to around 91,000 in 1989.  As a consequence of the economic problems of the DDR, Mielke initiated a hiring freeze in 1983, otherwise the ranks would surely have swelled further.

Erich Mielke's chair and desk in his office preserved at The Stasi Museum in Berlin

In addition to the official staff, Mielke had an estimated 189,000 unofficial collaborators (inoffizielle Mitarbeiter or IM) at his disposal.  These were ordinary citizens who had agreed to spy and inform on their neighbours, colleagues, fellow students and, in some cases, family members.

It was strange to me how normal it all seemed.  The conference room here looked much like you would expect the boardrooms of countless companies to have looked at the time.

A conference room next to Erich Mielke's office in The Stasi Museum in Berlin

It reminded me of visits to my dad’s office as a child in the early 1980s – the memory conjured up by that smell of old paper mixed with stale smoke and furniture polish.  It was hard to imagine that in such nondescript and unremarkable surroundings, issues were discussed and decisions made that had such far-reaching effects on the lives of the people of the DDR, challenging their basic human rights – freedom of choice, thought and speech.

One thing that was a little out of the ordinary though was the very large tape recorder in a cupboard near some easy chairs in a corner of Mielke’s office.  The fact that the cupboard could be closed on the equipment makes you wonder how many people were not aware that their conversations here were being recorded.

A lounge chair and recording equipment hidden in a cupboard in a corner of Erich Mielke's office in The Stasi Museum in Berlin

Climbing the stairs to the third floor there were yet more examples of just how the Stasi monitored the people.

Here, just for a moment, the subterfuge and terrible consequences of their use were forgotten, as I stared in wonderment at the myriad ways the Stasi had found to conceal cameras.

There was a camera hidden in a tie.

A camera hidden in a tie on display in The Stasi Museum in Berlin

There was a buttonhole camera, the button replaceable so it could be made to match the clothes in which it was hidden.

A buttonhole camera on display in The Stasi Museum in Berlin

There was a camera in a petrol can, a log, a pen.  There was even a camera in a bird box.

A camera hidden in a Bird Box on display in The Stasi Museum in Berlin

It was like visiting Q’s lab to see the latest gadgets dreamed up for James Bond.  And then I saw something that anyone who has seen The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen) will recognise – a scent jar.

A person's scent stored in a glass jar in The Stasi Museum in Berlin

Following an interrogation, during which a detainee had been ‘sweated’, officers would wipe the chair they had sat on with a cloth and store the scent in a jar.  Smells could then be matched to individuals connected to future events.

And this is where a little bit of craziness creeps into the genius and inventiveness.

The combination of the seemingly mundane and business-like offices, the bizarre and wacky inventions and educational and informative displays make The Stasi Museum an interesting and thought-provoking building.

The Stasi Musuem on Ruschestrasse is sign-posted from the U-Bahnhof at Magdalenenstrasse.  Admission for adults is €5 with an extra €1 for permission to take photographs.

If you’d like to know more about the former head of the Stasi, Erich Mielke you should read this excellent article by Tam Eastley on Slow Travel Berlin.

A display in The Stasi Museum in Berlin including busts of Lenin and Marx

A chair and telephone in The Stasi Museum in Berlin

The lounge area next to Erich Mielke's office in The Stasi Museum in Berlin